Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill [HL] - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 8th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Liberal Democrat 5:15 pm, 8th January 2019

My Lords, this amendment is a simple, overarching provision that says that no adjustment may be made,

“that jeopardises potential equivalence with the EU”.

This goes to the heart of what is allowable under a statutory instrument and what is not. It seems to me that it is one thing to seek short-cut arrangements—if I might call them that—to land in-flight legislation without needing primary legislation but quite a different matter to then land that legislation at a destination that is very different from the one that was expected. This is especially the case for legislation under subsection (2), which is no longer under negotiation but which has in fact landed, even if it is not yet operational.

It is worth pointing out that everything the Government have said about Brexit, under whatever type of Brexit, is to try to obtain or retain equivalence—that is the expectation. It may be that equivalence does not work out; it might be due to things that the EU does which become problems for UK markets—and, as I said, I know pretty well how that might happen. Or it might just be that the EU Commission delays or decides not to make an equivalence finding because it does not see it as in its interest. After all, it is EU Commission policy to make equivalence decisions only when the EU needs them—although it tends to find out in the end that it does need them. I know full well what an infuriating process equivalence can be, as I have played my part both in making sure that it gets into the legislation in the first place and then pressing EU officials to get on with it.

However, despite all those difficulties around equivalence and whether we will have it or not, that will not be decided overnight—even, if I may say so, in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Thus to abandon notions of equivalence, even at any time within two years of Brexit, would be a big step and a decision that should come before Parliament in primary legislation. I do not say that it should not happen, but it is a big departure. I do not remember that anybody’s manifesto said that they would abandon equivalence willy-nilly. Everything that has been said on every occasion, on everything to do with the Brexit negotiations, has been to try to get something better than equivalence, so it would be a big departure to set it aside. This is where the dividing line comes, and this would be the gatekeeper of those things that you do: “It’s okay—you’re keeping equivalence. No; you can’t do it this way if you want to break away from equivalence”.

The truth is that we have already given regulators sufficient leeway that they could make rules that led to an abandonment of equivalence by them not matching EU delegated Acts legislation. The way we have set it up, that has been given to the regulators. However, I do not think that our regulators would tend to go down that track—and if they did, I suspect that it would feature prominently in their consultations. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is not in his place, because I commend his amendment that we will come to later on, in which he suggests that some reporting from the Bank of England should be included. Possibly, if we are to have these reports that tell us what is going on across the piece, it would be a good idea to include in that what the FCA is doing, whether that is done through the FCA having a section of the report or through the Treasury dealing on its behalf with that aspect of the report that it told us about.

As I have already indicated, we know that there are concerns about certain bits or pieces of legislation, but we have to bear in mind that abandonment or significant alteration of any policy element of what is essentially EU primary legislation may well remove the hope of equivalence for part of the market, or indeed for other parts or entities that are not necessarily the direct beneficiaries of those adjustments. I could construct an argument around the changing of the buy-in regime. If that was dropped, it could have ramifications for equivalences in many other places, and that matter is already weighing on the consciences of those who are having to think about which way they would want to push that debate.

As I said, the business about what we do with equivalence needs a great deal more thought. As my noble friend Lady Kramer said, we cannot let it go by default of not doing something or by rushing something through in a statutory instrument that we cannot amend, knowing that it might lead to a loss of equivalence. I beg to move.